03/22/2009 11:00PM

Golden Gate sale hearing draws near


The landscape of Northern California racing will change yet again if Golden Gate Fields, the circuit's lone remaining major racetrack, changes hands this summer. The process of the track's owner, Magna Entertainment Corp., possibly selling Golden Gate takes a step forward April 3, when a court hearing will define the bidding process for the track, according to Golden Gate's general manager, Robert Hartman.

Magna filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on March 5. It will attempt to sell off some of its properties, including Golden Gate Fields, which was one of its few profitable racetracks.

A stalking-horse bid for Golden Gate Fields has been filed by MI Developments Inc., the largest secured creditor and controlling shareholder of Magna Entertainment. A stalking-horse bid is an initial bid, usually solicited by a bankrupt company, to prevent low-ball offers.

An auction for the track could take place as soon as late July, provided the bankruptcy court approves the auction process and there are bids other than the one made by MI Developments.

"The more bidders the better," Hartman said.

Like the recently closed Bay Meadows, Golden Gate sits on valuable property. It is located in Albany, on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay.

Hartman concedes that entities interested solely in developing the land may make bids, but he thinks Golden Gate's value as a racetrack will encourage racing interests to bid.

"The good news is this is not zoned for retail or housing," Hartman said.

Given the local political climate, Hartman said he does not foresee any change in zoning for at least a decade, which might discourage developers from making bids.

Entry shortage continues

Although it is the only game in town, Golden Gate Fields is having trouble attracting horses.

On Saturday, the track announced that it would cancel this Thursday's card because of a lack of entries. The track could card only seven races instead of the usual eight for the last two Thursdays.

"We had one race that filled with five horses," said the track's racing secretary, Sean Greely, referring to this Thursday's canceled card.

Golden Gate managed to fill eight races for Friday's card, which attracted a total of 51 horses.

Both Greely and Hartman point to the many horses returning to Washington in anticipation of next month's opening of the Emerald Downs meet as a big reason for the decrease in the local horse population. Hartman said that with the return of turf racing to Golden Gate and a number of 2-year-olds about ready to run, he was hopeful there would not be any more four-day weeks.

Bay Meadows project on hold

Bay Meadows, in San Mateo, closed for good last year, and the grandstand has been torn down. By now, work on building the planned commercial and real estate development was supposed to be well under way. Instead, a pile of rubble sits on the 82-acre site, with developers waiting to begin construction until the economy "has firmed up," the project manager told the San Francisco Examiner.

The original project included more than 1,000 housing units and 850,000 square feet of commercial and retail space.

The only remnant of horse racing in San Mateo is a simulcast facility at the San Mateo County Expo Center, next to where the racetrack stood.

Siren Lure may try turf mile

Siren Lure crept closer to millionaire status with his impressive victory in Saturday's $75,000 Golden Gate Fields Sprint, rallying from last to post a one-length victory in the six-furlong race.

Trainer Steve Sherman said he and owners Stuart Kesselman and Tony and Marilyn Melkonian would consider the $300,000 San Francisco Mile, a Grade 2 turf race here on April 25, for the 8-year-old gelding's next start.

Siren Lure is at his best as a late-running sprinter, and he handles turf nicely. He has won three turf stakes and earned $253,871 on the surface. He was fourth on turf in the Grade 2 Del Mar Breeders' Cup in 2005.

Siren Lure has never won going two turns.

"Is it his ideal distance? I'd definitely say not," Sherman said. "We'll just nominate him. I'm not sure if he'd run. It's not like he's a slouch on turf, but we'll see who's nominated. There's usually some pretty tough runners from down south."

Two reasons that Sherman is considering the race are the timing - the next Northern California sprint stakes won't be until the Alameda County Fair in early July - and the location.

"It definitely beats traveling," Sherman said.